• Nate Adams

'Blacklight' review: Liam Neeson snarls his way through another flimsy action clunker


Courtesy of Briarcliff Entertainment

 

There’s something inherently fascinating watching the projects Liam Neeson chooses to headline. From “Honest Thief” to “The Marksmen,” “The Ice Road” and now “Blacklight,” the 70-year old Northern Ireland born actor seems content with being an unlikely action hero whose resurgence began with 2008’s “Taken.” His newest picture, a conspiracy thriller where he plays one of those “live or die by the code” agents whose valor is more important than family, isn’t good nor would I recommend it, but seeing Neeson chew up the screen as America’s favorite gun-wielding grandpa has endearing qualities. The man gets paid even if it’s at the expense of moviegoers suckered into thinking his next project will be “Taken” or “Non-Stop” rather than “The Commuter.” I don’t blame them, because when Neeson locks in with a decent director and punchy script, it can be a nice diversion (hello “Cold Pursuit” or “The Grey”). “Blacklight,” however, ain’t it.


There’s plenty of bullets and punches thrown in “Blacklight,” a story so familiar you could fall asleep for 20-minutes, awaken, and immediately pick up where you left off without having to backtrack. Neeson plays hardened FBI “fixer” Travis Block who handles undercover agents on the brink of collapse. Whatever the case, be it they’ve become deeply intertwined with their target or lost mental stability, Block is responsible for cleaning up messes without asking questions. That’s why his shady boss, FBI director Gabriel Robinson (Aiden Quinn) keeps him on the payroll despite requests to retire so he can spend quality time with his granddaughter: he’s too valuable an asset.


Naturally, Block becomes embroiled in a classic government cover-up surrounding something known as “Operation Unity.” The logistics and motives of “Operation Unity” aren’t important, all you need to know is Block’s family is endangered and squads of goons driving black escalades are trying to stop him from exposing the truth. Director Mark Williams, who was a producer on “Honest Thief” and “The Marksmen,” never finds a convincing, non-laughable way to use his leading star. Neeson is once again reduced to a groveling protagonist whose voice would make Christian Bale in “Batman Begins” proud. There’s even a moment where he screams: “Where is she!” or was it “Give me back my family!” Eh, does it really matter?


None of the action sequences are memorable (but you already knew that) a freeway chase involving a garbage truck is as vanilla as they come and there’s exactly zero tension with Block’s family (maybe?) getting held hostage. At least Neeson isn’t afraid to lean into his type now that he’s getting older, and while a movie like “Blacklight” certainly pays the bills or helps put his child through college, it makes you eager for a project reminiscent of “Ordinary Love” or “Widows” where he can show up and remind audiences he’s got the goods. Unfortunately, “Blacklight” is another flimsy action clunker that’ll come and go without so much as a whimper.


Grade: C-


BLACKLIGHT opens in theaters Friday, February 11th.